Shoppers flood Williston for Black Friday12/4/08

Dec. 4, 2008

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

In what turned out to be a good sign for Williston retailers, it was hard to find parking spots at the town’s shopping centers last Friday. Shoppers lined up in the early morning hours at some of Williston’s big box stores, looking to get the best deals. The fear that shoppers would stay away in the face of a troubled economy proved irrelevant.


    Observer photo by Tim Simard
Customers head into Toys ‘R’ Us on Friday in search of deals on video games and toys. The massive number of shoppers created waits of more than an hour at the registers, one customer said.


    Observer photo by Tim Simard
Parking spaces are in short supply in front of the big box stores in Maple Tree Place on Black Friday.

“People really turned out on Friday,” said Tasha Wallis, director of the Vermont Retailers Association. “Overall, (retailers) had really strong weekends.”

Known as Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving is seen as the kickoff to the holiday shopping season. Stores typically offer some of the best deals of the year to entice shoppers. Deals can sometimes last through the weekend, as they did in stores such as the Superstore and Toys “R” Us.

After shopping for gifts at the Christmas Tree Shops, Matt and Amanda Barone, a brother and sister shopping team from Charlotte, were heading to Best Buy for deals on electronics. Amanda Barone had been up since 5 a.m., shopping at Bon-Ton at the University Mall in South Burlington. It was her fourth year in a row of rising early for sales.

“The sales seemed to be better than in years past,” she said.

Matt Barone said he wasn’t surprised at the deals being offered by retailers. He guessed stores were desperate to attract shoppers despite the troubled economy. He also said he expected to see more people shopping and guessed some might be waiting until later in the season for better deals.

“(Retailers) are going to keep dropping the prices until they force people to shop,” Matt Barone predicted.

His sister also said the crowds seemed light this year.

“It doesn’t seem as crazy as it has been,” she said.

But on the other side of Route 2A, it was crazy at Toys “R” Us. Parking was extremely tight in front of the toy store, Marshalls and Circuit City. Inside Toys “R” Us, lines of shoppers stretched into the aisles.

“I just waited over an hour in line,” said Lisa Smith, a shopper from Richmond.

Smith said she waited only 15 minutes in line at Wal-Mart earlier in the day and was surprised by lines at Toys “R” Us. But she said the long wait was worth it to get a Nintendo Wii gaming system on sale for her children.

“They’ve all been asking for this,” she said.

Shoppers were out in force at the Superstore in Blair Park as well. According to Todd MacDuff, the Superstore’s electronics department manager, his department had a record day.

“You could say we met expectations,” MacDuff said, adding he did not have full figures for the whole store.

MacDuff said there were sales on flat-screen televisions and high-definition Blue Ray DVD players, which he said attracted customers. He said there would be varying sales as the season continued and he hoped it would continue to be successful.

“Unfortunately, Black Friday is not always a good indicator of how the rest of the season will go,” MacDuff said.

Best Buy General Manager Brian Shedd said the whole weekend was busy and Black Friday was met with a long line of shoppers that wrapped around the building, much like last year. Shedd couldn’t comment on specific sales numbers, but he did say he was happy with the results. He credits the company’s marketing and advertising campaigns.

“Year after year, as a company, we’re getting better with coming up with promotions and getting the word out,” Shedd said.

At Lenny’s Shoe and Apparel, store manager Isreal Bushey was happy with the sales figures over the weekend, although they weren’t huge.

“We didn’t do spectacular, but we didn’t do terrible either,” Bushey said.

Bushey said the store is planning sales through the season, including a major sale starting Dec. 10. But overall, he’s tempering expectations.

Wallis, like other storeowners, hopes last weekend’s momentum continues through the season. But news is iffy now that the National Bureau of Economic Research said the United States has been in a recession since last December.

“This year, and I know I keep saying this, but it’s completely uncharted waters,” Wallis said. “But we’ve had an encouraging kickoff so far.”